VICTORIA, Australia — In response to a high rate of overdose-related deaths, Victoria’s drug court magistrate is calling for a dedicated rehabilitation prison facility to help reduce the system’s number of drug-related fatalities.
According to the Victorian Coroners Court, between 2000 and 2010 approximately 120 former inmates died as a direct result of drug overdoses within just two month of their release. The majority of victims were males between 20 and 29 years of age who had ingested a variety of illicit drugs, among them, heroin.
Victoria Magistrate Tony Parsons believes Corrections Victoria should look to New South Wales, a recognized leader in therapeutic drug treatment, for a viable response to the issue. “(New South Wales has) secure hospitals, where people can receive intensive therapy for drug and mental health issues while they’re in custody. Victoria is behind the game in that respect.”
“The officials in the prison system need to make sure that a person gets their prescribed pharmacotherapy, gets their prescribed mental health meds and stabilizes on them while they are in the custodial system,” said Parsons. “So, when they leave they are properly medicated and they’re given some measure of protection against the overdoses we are currently seeing.”
In 2011, The Australian, a national business newspaper reported that death rates among prisoners within 12 months of their release was an alarming 10 times higher than among their incarcerated peers. Further data suggested that nearly 450 prisoners died annually within a year of their release. Nearly half of these deaths were attributed to users’ physical inability to cope with post-release drug use after a long period of enforced abstinence.
Of the nearly 2,400 Victoria prisoners who actively seek drug treatment after their release each year, just 1.6 percent of them are placed in one of the state’s residential rehabilitation beds. As there are currently less than 300 of these therapeutic drug treatment beds in the state, the waiting list can be as long as three months.
Based on these figures, Sam Biondo, chief executive of the Victorian Drug and Alcohol Association, believes Corrections Victoria’s approach is in need of an overhaul. “That’s an incredible amount of people. This is a system that is supposed to rehabilitate people. In fact, it is leading them to their deaths,” he said.
Though there is currently just one treatment-based corrections facility in the state, the increasing severity of the problem has inspired plans to further develop operations. According to the Department of Justice, the existing facility based in Lara, will expand to include improved comprehensive support programs, intended to help inmates break the cycle of drug abuse.